(CBS)- If you turned on a Michigan State game in the last four years, you quickly became acquainted with point guard Cassius Winston. The 6’1″ 185 pound Detroit native cracked head coach Tom Izzo’s lineup right away as a freshman and took over as the full-time starter at point guard by his sophomore year.
A two-time All American, two-time All Big-Ten selection and the 2018-19 Big Ten Player of the Year award in his back pocket, Winston now looks to make the next step when the NBA Draft gets underway on November 18. Even in a year of uncertainty with the draft process and when things will get underway (the November 18 date is the third already for the draft this year), Winston is just enjoying the process.
“You just have to enjoy the process. The best part of everything is the journey,” said Winston. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to look back on this time, and you’re going to think about how you went through it. When I look back on it I want to think about it I embraced it.”
“My job right now is to wake up, work on my body work on my game. And that’s really all I got to do. So there’s a lot of people that got it way worse than me during these times so I can’t I can’t really complain,” continued Winston.
That love for the game began early with battles against his brothers Zachary and Khy. What first started out as just a way for the three of them and their dad to hang out became a passion and, even though he says he’s still pretty sure he’s undefeated in those competitions, Winston credits those sessions with his family for pushing him to improve.
“They pushed me to become better and they pushed me to try to improve and I knew they were looking up to me so I always tried to make myself go harder in order to make sure that they could follow in those footsteps,” said Winston.
At Michigan State, Winston grew both on and off the court, crediting the program with helping him to transform not only physically, through adding muscle and improving his conditioning, but mentally as well.
“It helps you grow this mental toughness that just separates yourself. Being able to believe in yourself, believe in the work that you put in. Be able to take losses. Be able to fall down and get back up,” said Winston. “As a man, that’s something crucial to learn something that you’re going to need for the rest of your life. To be able to learn that, in an environment that helps you grow and learn and grow into the person that you want to be was really helpful for me.”
Part of that growth came through the relationship that Winston developed with head coach Tom Izzo. As with many point guard/head coach relationships, there were highs and lows, but Winston appreciates the challenge that Izzo consistently provided to push him to become a better player.
“It’s just this constant, constant ability to push you and challenge you. And I’m a person who responds very well to challenges,” said Winston of Izzo. “So, if you do something, you know he’s going challenge you to do it better. Or if you go to the gym three days a week he’s going to challenge you to come five. He’s constantly challenging to be better than what you think you’re doing and to push yourself further than what you think you can accomplish. That mindset of having somebody there to push you to heights you probably didn’t think you could reach.”
Those challenges and pushes no have Winston on the brink of an NBA career. He’s projected by CBSSports.com to go 28th to the Los Angeles Lakers in their latest Mock Draft. His game has been well dissected after four years of playing in the national spotlight with the Spartans, but he feels there’s one aspect that’s hard to notice on film that he brings to the team.
“I think one of the things that may go, unnoticed a little bit is the amount of confidence that I feed off into my teammates,” said Winston. “I feed confidence into my teammates where okay, you hit that shot, I’m coming back to you. Go ahead and make that play you can knock that down. That whole type of energy towards the game. I know I’m bringing myself but I’ll make sure my team is going to feel like they can play at that level too.”
The skills that show up in the box score and on film are quite impressive too. A career 43% three point shooter who averaged over six assists and nearly a steal per game, Winston’s profile fits will with teams looking for guard to add to their roster. He compares his game most to that of Toronto Raptors guards Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry, noting that their ability to make plays in tight spaces and get their teammates involved are things he’s developed in his own game.
But, Winston has made a point of making sure that he’s a threat with or without the ball in his hands saying that he never wants to be seen as a limited player.
“I want to be a play maker and that means that no matter what position you put me in, no matter what situation you put me in, I’ll figure out a way to make it work and still be productive and make things happen,” said Winston. “I pride myself on having the ability to be more versatile so I can be out there and I want to be on the floor so the more things you can do on the floor, the more options they have for you.”
He’ll bring that versatility with him to whatever team calls his name on draft night. Of course, as a Detroit native, being selected by the Pistons would be a nice moment for Winston who noted that “home is always where my heart is.” But, no matter where he’s headed after November 18, he has a message for fans about what he brings to the city.
“You’re getting a winner. That is what I want to do I want to win games at the highest level. And I pride myself on being good in those situations,” said Winston. “I’m going to come in, I’m going to give it my all and eventually I’m going to figure it out. And once that happens, things will start to roll. You’ll get somebody who is going to come in, be a winner. Be a good teammate and do his best to fill the role to the best way possible. And off the court you’re going to get a good guy, a great genuine person, humble. I’m there to enjoy people, enjoy the city and go to events and just see what the culture is like. I want to get all those things in because I don’t want to be somebody who’s standoffish I want to be a part of the city.”
The NBA Draft is set to begin on Wednesday, November 18.